§ 6. Uses of the Principatus in spite of its heretical abuse

{180} I have ventured to say that the view of our Lord as not only God, but definitely and directly as in the Divine Unity the Son of God, is a point of theology of great moment in the doctrine of His incarnation. I will now give distinctly my reasons for saying so, and will begin with a reference to Thomassin's treatment of the subject in his de Incarnatione Verbi, 1. ii. c. 1, pp. 89, &c. I have done my best to abridge and reduce it without injury to the sense, but, long as it is, still the importance of the subject and the depth and force of his remarks would, I think, be my justification for the following extracts, even had I made them longer.

1. "This," he says, "first of all must be laid down, that it belongs to the Father to be without birth, but to the Son to be born. Now innascibility is a principle of concealment, but birth of exhibition. The former withdraws from sight, the latter comes forth into open day; the one retires into itself, lives to itself, and has no outward start; the other flows forth and extends itself, and is diffused far and wide. It corresponds then to the idea of the Father, as being ingenerate, to be self-collected, remote, unapproachable, invisible, and in consequence to be utterly alien to an incarnation. But to the Son, considered as once for all born, and ever coming to the birth, and starting into view, it especially belongs to display Himself, {181} to be prodigal of Himself, to bestow Himself as an object for sight and enjoyment, because in the fact of being born He has burst forth into this corresponding act of self-diffusion.

"Next, however, whereas the nature of Father and Son is one, therefore equally inaccessible and incomprehensible and invisible is in His nature the Son as the Father. Accordingly, we are here considering a personal property, not a natural. For it is especially congenial to the Divine Nature to be good, beneficent, and indulgent; and for these qualities there is no opening at all without a certain manifestation of their hiding-place, and outpouring of His condescending Majesty. Wherefore, since the Majesty and Goodness of God, in the very bosom of His Nature, look different ways, and by the one He retires into Himself, and by the other He pours Himself out, it is by the different properties of the Divine Persons that this contrariety is solved, and the ingenerate Father secures the majesty and invisibility of the Godhead in its secret place; while the Son, who issues thence, manifests Its goodness and sheds abroad Its beneficence. And hence, further, as might be proved from Irenĉus and other Fathers, not to speak of the Platonists, the Father is the Son's incomprehensibility and invisibility, and the Son is the Father's comprehensibility and visibility; the Son's Nature is perceived to be invisible and incomprehensible in the Father, and the Father's Nature to be most bountiful and self-communicating in the Son, who, as possessor of a generate and communicated divinity (Deitate genita et donata), rejoices to give what He has received. {182}

"Moreover, since the Incarnation involves some sort injury (injuriam) to the Godhead, nay even a self-emptying, there is a propriety in the Son's sustaining this rather than the Father, for the Father is the invisible safeguard of Divinity, in that He is its Origin and Fount; and the Son is the principle of Its effusion, nay, the expenditure and emptying out of Itself, saving always that the Father's inviolability is the Son's, and the Son's munificence is the Father's too.

"Again, as the Incarnation, so previous to it the divine adumbrations made to prophets or to patriarchs, would have been strange in the Father, while they were glorious in the Son; for the Godhead in its own Fount is most pure from all humiliation, all the dust of creation, all contagion of foreign natures any whatever; on the other hand, in its Stream, though it is entire, and all and everything that it is in the Fount, it is less strange that it should extravagate and intermingle with the creatures, and (as it were) be, so to say, soiled by its own beneficence.

"And hence again it is that the Scripture speaks of the Father as invisible, and of the Son as the Image of the Invisible God; and says both that God can be seen, and that He cannot. The teaching of the Fathers reconciles the contrariety at once. Invisibility is reserved to the Father, visibility (whether by angelic adumbrations or by an incarnation) is undertaken by the Son.

"Once more. Why was it that the early heretics invented their Eons, and, beyond them all, their First and Inaccessible God, and made the God of Moses, or the Creator, an inferior being? Because they preferred {183} shattering the Divine Nature to viewing it in a plurality of Persons. For the prerogatives which they assigned to their supreme invisible God, these belong to the Father; those which they withheld from Him as unsuitable, are opportune in the Son, viewed as wounding Himself for our needs and our infirmities. Thus Irenĉus, Clement, Tertullian, and others, by discriminating the Divine Persons, made provision for the Divine Unity.

2. "And secondly, the Father undertakes no work outside Himself, except through the Son; for the Son is the first and the whole outcoming of the Father, as issuing forth from the depth of His isolation. Therefore, if He creates the earth, through the Son He creates; if He governs it, when created, through the Son He governs it; if He restores it, when ruined, through the Son He restores it. Between the first Fount of Divinity and the far-off creature the Son intervenes; what the Father is within, that is the Son without; what the Father covers, the Son discovers; what the One is potentially, the other is in act; and therefore, of the Father, in the silence of His repose, the Son is the active and effective Image; so that it is congruous that to the Son should be committed the whole administration of the external creation, whether for framing, or ruling, or reforming it.

"Beyond a shadow of doubt does the Scripture declare that the Son is both consubstantial with the Father, yet His Image and Manifestation, and does all things at the mandate of the Father, and by the Father's authority has framed the earth, put on flesh, undergone the Cross. Nor can the Father, in that He is the Still Fountain-head, and {184} the potential principle, and the Silence, do all these things except through the Son, that is, through the motive power, through action and life.

"As, then, the Son cannot of Himself do anything, because He cannot, except from the immobility and potentiality of the Father, start into motion and act, so neither can the Father do anything except with the Son and through the Son, inasmuch as what is in rest and in potentia cannot go abroad, except by action and motion. At the same time, what the Father does, though it be through the Son, is His own, since from Him the Son Himself has being.

"All these remarks come to the same point, viz. that the Father works all His works, gives all His gifts to us, through the Son. 'This,' says St. Cyril of Alexandria, 'is a kind of subjection, because the Son seems to lie under the Father's will.'"

Thus Thomassin, in illustration of the help given us towards realizing the Incarnation, by what is mercifully revealed to us of the Person who became incarnate; for which knowledge we ought ever to be thankful. And now, under shelter of the teaching of so eminent a theologian, I shall venture to quote some remarks of my own on our Lord as Son or Word, in further illustration of the Principatus, as they are contained in two sermons published by me many years ago:—

"It is a point of doctrine necessary to insist upon, that, while our Lord is God, He is also the Son of God, or rather, that He is God because He is the Son of God. We are apt, at first hearing, to say that He is God, though He {185} is the Son of God, marvelling at the mystery. But what to man is a mystery, to God is a cause. He is God, not though, but because He is the Son of God. Though we could not presume to reason of ourselves that He that is begotten of God is God, as if it became us to reason at all about such ineffable things, yet, by the light of Scripture, we may thus reason. This is what makes the doctrine of our Lord's Eternal Sonship of such supreme importance, viz. that He is God because He is begotten of God; and they who gave up the latter truth, are in the way to give up, or will be found already to have given up, the former. The great safeguard to the doctrine of our Lord's Divinity is the doctrine that He is Son or Word of the Father: we realize that He is God, only when we acknowledge Him to be by nature and in eternity Son.

"Nay, our Lord's Sonship is not only the guarantee to us of His Divinity, but also the condition of His incarnation. As our Lord was God, because He was the Son, so on the other hand, because He was the Son, therefore is He man:—it belonged to the Son to have the Father's perfections, it became the Son to assume a servant's form. We must beware of supposing that the Persons of the Ever-blessed Trinity differ from each other only in this, that the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father. They differ in this besides, that the Father is the Father, and the Son is the Son. While They are one in substance, Each has distinct characteristics which the Other has not. Thus we may see a fitness in the Son's taking flesh, now that that sacred truth is revealed, and may thereby understand better what He says of Himself {186} in the Gospels. The Son of God became the Son a second time, though not a second Son, by becoming man. He was a Son both before His incarnation, and, by a second mystery, after it. From eternity He had been the Only-begotten in the bosom of the Father; and, when He came on earth, this essential relation to the Father remained unaltered. Still He was a Son, when in the form of a servant,—still performing the will of the Father, as His Father's Word and Wisdom, manifesting His Father's glory and accomplishing His Father's purposes.

"For instance, take the following passages of Scripture:—'I can do nothing of myself;' 'He that sent Me is with Me;' 'The Father hath not left Me alone;' 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work;' 'As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself;' 'Whatsoever I speak, even as the Father said unto Me, so I speak;' 'I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.' Now, it is true, these passages may allowably be understood of our Lord's human nature; but surely, if we confine them to this interpretation, we run the risk of viewing Him as two separate beings, not as one Person; or again, of gradually forgetting and explaining away the doctrine of His Divinity altogether. If we speak as if our Lord had a human personality, then, since He has a personality as God, He is not one Person, and if He has not, He is not God. Such passages then as the foregoing would seem to speak neither of His human nature simply, nor of His Divine, but of both together; that is, they speak of Him who, being the Son of God, is also man. He who spoke was one really existing Person, {187} and He, that one living and almighty Son, both God and man, was the brightness of God's glory and His Power, and wrought what His Father willed, and was in the Father and the Father in Him, not only in heaven, but on earth. In heaven he was this, and did this, as God; and on earth He was this, and did this, in that manhood which He assumed; but whether in heaven or on earth, still as the Son. It was therefore true of Him altogether, when He spoke, that He was not alone, nor spoke or wrought of Himself, but where He was, there was the Father; and whoso had seen Him, the Son, had seen the Father, whether we think of Him as God or as man.

"Again, we read in Scripture of His being sent by the Father, addressing the Father, interceding with Him for His disciples, and declaring to them that His Father is greater than He. In what sense says and does He all this? Some will be apt to say that He spake only in His human nature; words which are perplexing to the mind that tries really to contemplate Him as Scripture describes Him, because they seem to imply as if He were speaking only under a representation, and not in His Person. No; it is truer to say that He, that One All-gracious Son of God, who had been with the Father from the beginning, equal in all Divine perfections, and one in substance with Him, but second after Him as being the Son,—as He had ever been His Word, and Wisdom, and Counsel, and Will, and Power in heaven,—so after His incarnation, and upon the earth, still spoke and acted, after yet with the Father, as before, though in a new nature, which He had put on, and in humiliation. {188}

"This, then, is the point of doctrine which I had to mention, that our Lord was not only God, but the Son of God. We know more than that God took on Him our flesh; though all is mysterious, we have a point of knowledge further and more distinct, viz. that it was neither the Father nor the Holy Ghost, but the Son of the Father, God the Son, God from God, and Light from Light, who came down upon earth, and who thus, though graciously taking on Him a new nature, remained in Person, as He had been from everlasting, the Son of the Father, and spoke and acted towards the Father as a Son." Serm. vol. vi. 5.

The second passage runs thus:—

"Obedience belongs to a servant, but accordance, concurrence, co-operation, are the characteristics of a son. In His eternal union with God there was no distinction of will and work between Him and His Father; as the Father's life was the Son's life, and the Father's glory the Son's also, so the Son was very Word and Wisdom of the Father, His Power and Co-equal Minister in all things, the same and not the same as He Himself. But in the days of His flesh, when He had humbled Himself to the form of a servant, taking on Himself a separate will and a separate work, and the toil and sufferings incident to a creature, then what had been mere concurrence became obedience. 'Though He was a Son, yet had He experience of obedience.' He took on Him a lower nature, and wrought in it towards a Will higher and more perfect than it. Further, He learned 'obedience' amid 'suffering,' and therefore amid temptation. Not as if He ceased to be {189} what He had ever been, but, having clothed Himself with a created essence, He made it the instrument of His humiliation; He acted in it, He obeyed and suffered through it. That Eternal Power, which, till then, had thought and acted as God, began to think and act as a man, with all man's faculties, affections, and imperfections, sin excepted. Before He came on earth, he was infinitely above hope and grief, fear and anger, pain and heaviness; but afterwards all these properties of man (and many more) were His as fully as they are ours.

"If any one is tempted to consider such a subject abstract, speculative, and unprofitable, I would observe in answer, that I have taken it on the very ground of its being, as I believe, especially practical. Let it not be thought a strange thing to say, though I say it, that there is much in the religious belief, even of the more serious part of the community at present, to make observant men very anxious where it will end. It would be no very difficult matter, I suspect, to perplex the faith of a great many persons who believe themselves to be orthodox, and indeed are so, according to their light. They have been accustomed to call Christ God, but that is all,—they have not considered what is meant by applying that title to One who was really man, and from the vague way in which they use it, they would be in no small danger, if assailed by a subtle disputant, of being robbed of the sacred truth in its substance, even if they kept it in name. In truth, until we contemplate our Lord and Saviour, God and man, as being as complete and entire in His personality as we show ourselves to be to each other,—as one and the same in all His {190} various and contrary attributes, 'the same yesterday, today, and for ever,' we are using words which profit not. Till then, we do not realize that Object of faith, which is not a mere name, on which titles and properties may be affixed without congruity and meaning, but one that has a personal existence and an identity distinct from everything else. In what true sense do we know Him, if our idea of Him be not such as to take up and incorporate into itself the manifold attributes and offices which we ascribe to Him? What do we gain from words, however correct and abundant, if they end with themselves, instead of lighting up the image of the Incarnate Son in our hearts?

"We have well-nigh forgotten the sacred truth, graciously disclosed for our support, that Christ is the Son of God in His Divine Nature, as well as in His human. We speak of Him in a vague way as God, which is true, but not the whole truth; and, in consequence, when we proceed to consider His humiliation, we are unable to carry on the notion of His personality from heaven to earth. He who was but now spoken of as God, without mention of the Father from whom He is, is next described as if a creature; but how do these distinct notions of Him hold together in our minds? We are able indeed to continue the idea of a Son into that of a servant, though the descent was infinite, and, to our reason, incomprehensible; but when we merely speak, first of God, then of man, we seem to change the Nature without preserving the Person. In truth, His Divine Sonship is that portion of the sacred doctrine, on which the mind is providentially intended to rest throughout, and so to preserve for itself His identity unbroken. {191} But, when we abandon this gracious help afforded to our faith, how can we hope to gain the one true and simple vision of Him? how shall we possibly look beyond our own words, or apprehend in any sort what we say? In consequence, we are often led, almost as a matter of necessity, in discoursing of His words and works, to distinguish between the Christ who lived on earth and the Word who is in the bosom of the Father, speaking of His human nature and His Divine nature so separately, as not to feel or understand that God is man and man is God; and thus, beginning by being Sabellians, we go on to be Nestorians, and tend to be at length Ebionites, and to deny Christ's Divinity altogether." Sermons, vol. iii. 12.

So much on the doctrine of the Principatus, on its use and abuse. It naturally introduces us to the second doctrine which has to be considered, as giving a shelter to Semi-Arianism, viz. the Syncatabasis or Condescensio of the Son.

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